With the fiscal cliff negotiations behind us, America must now turn to its next pressing challenge: Fixing a broken immigration system.
Two months ago, our country and our state experienced a historic election. For the first time, Latino voters accounted for more than 10% of the national electorate. They overwhelmingly supported President Obama, who advocated for comprehensive immigration reform.
The message from Latino and immigrant voters was clear: The time for immigration reform is now.
Immediately following the election, Republicans in Congress appeared to understand that an anti-immigrant platform is both bad policy and bad politics. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested he was open to immigration reform.
But now, some Republicans in Congress have cynically advanced immigration legislation, such as the “ACHIEVE” Act and a bill to eliminate the diversity visa program, that do not meet the needs of immigrant communities. The first bill seeks to undercut the DREAM Act — which offers a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrant students — by offering a smaller group of youth only legalization without the possibility of becoming citizens. The latter proposal would reduce
opportunities for authorized immigration, including for relatives of legal permanent residents.
These are far cries from a comprehensive solution. Instead of fixing a broken system, they would exacerbate existing problems without offering a pathway to earned citizenship for immigrants who are already here.
Comprehensive immigration reform offers a far superior — in fact, the only — genuine solution. It would entail a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in our country’s shadows and allow them to contribute fully to our economy and society. It would end the specter of deportation that has torn asunder families and communities. And, comprehensive immigration reform would also fix our visa system to ensure that computer technicians, nurses and agricultural workers can come to our country and support our economic recovery.
Immigrants are an engine of economic growth. Undocumented immigrants have actually helped keep Social Security afloat through their contributions. The Center for American Progress, a national think-tank, estimates that comprehensive immigration reform would generate $1.5 trillion for our national Gross Domestic Product during the next decade, with $5 billion in additional tax revenues generated in just the next three years.
We both work closely with New York’s immigrant communities. Whether they hail from Korea, Colombia, India or Mexico, our immigrant constituents and members — whether they have papers or not — want nothing more than to be able to provide for their families and support their communities, while enjoying the dignity and respect that all New Yorkers deserve.
As Katherine Tabares, a Colombian immigrant, Make the Road New York member and current Student Body President of the International High School at La Guardia, recently explained, “We are not just undocumented students; we are an integral part of our community that is looking for a better future for New York.”
We need to support these valuable members of New York’s vibrant communities and fight back against anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation.
In 2012, President Obama showed tremendous leadership by offering eligible undocumented immigrant students “deferred action” — temporary protection from deportation. Now, it is time to continue moving forward by enacting comprehensive legislation.
In November, at poll sites around New York and the country, Latino and immigrant voters made history. Now it is time for Congress to do the same.
[Javier Valdes is the co-executive director of Make the Road New York]